Informality in the Audiovisual Sector

Final Report

Diana Rey, Ph.D.
Independent Consultant

This project is undertaken by the PEC International Council and supported by the British Council. The PEC International Council is a network of leading policy and creative economy practitioners from across the world. The group is convened by The British Council and is an international advisory body to the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC), which is led by Nesta.


This research has been supported by Scriptwriters and Screenwriters community and Tingo Agency. Scriptwriters and Screenwriters community brings together amateur writers and professional Spanish-speaking screenwriters, this is promoted by artist David Esteban Cubero.

Tingo Agency is a digital marketing agency based on Montreal, Canada. They were responsible for the animation and edition of the video.

I. The Project Overview

Over the last decade, from 2010–2020, the audiovisual industry in Latin America has made important contributions to the economy. Despite this, few studies have been carried out to understand the workings of the informal economy within the audiovisual sector value chain, and less so when it concerns issues relating to the working conditions of one of the key actors in the industry: script writers.

To better understand the position of scriptwriters in the sector and how they are represented and treated in terms of their employment rights, a detailed survey was conducted interviewing scriptwriters directly and finding out how they view themselves within this informal economy. A total of 74 scriptwriters were approached during the survey, all of whom were selected from a large network of scriptwriters and other participants coming from various social media communities in countries including Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico.

The key results of the survey are presented in the video titled “Informality in the Audiovisual Sector” which illustrates the extent of the obstacles facing scriptwriters in terms of trying to get regular work and often having to moonlight to sustain themselves.

It was picked up that the various challenges faced by scriptwriters would change according to the geographical region within which they were based. The survey also provided an opportunity for female scriptwriters to share their experiences unique to them due to the ongoing gender biases and discriminations that take place within the sector.

II. Research findings/Conclusions

The survey was able to identify four profiles based on the schemes linked to other types of work and the time dedicated to their creative activity. Script writers, whose sole profession is scriptwriting and don’t rely on any other form of income, represented 21% of those surveyed. Scriptwriters, whose principal profession is creating audiovisual content, but who have another job to cover their costs, represented 22%. Professionals whose second job is to work as scriptwriters. They make up the group who, for the most part, are involved in employment in another sector of the economy and their creative work serves as additional income. This was the largest group representing 39.5% of those surveyed. Lastly, 17 % of those interviewed considered themselves amateurs. This means that they are currently studying or receiving formal training on audiovisual content creation so do not receive any earnings out of this work.

By analysing these four profiles, problems were encountered which appear to be characteristic of the informal employment environment of the scriptwriters: moonlighting, underemployment and employment instability are equally present issues between those scriptwriters with a second job or with other professionals who scriptwrite as their second job. This is why survey results were analysed between full time scriptwriters and script writers with other jobs.

In terms of age, it was found that 80% of the full-time script writers are between the ages of 32 and 50 years old. This is where we picked up interesting data: no person in this category was under the age of 32. Amongst those scriptwriters doing other work, the percentage in the age group of 30 to 50 years old, was lower at 59%. Women represent a significantly higher percentage amongst full

time script writers at 40% in comparison to the 18% who are doing it with an additional job.

Looking beyond the socio-demographic data, the survey revealed that only 33% of full time script writers are working on agreed contracts with producers or TV channels. 54% of them have had to alternate their jobs shifting from formal to informal working conditions. And 13% of them have always been employed or worked informally. The percentage of informal employment is higher for professional script writers who have had to resort to getting additional work. 53% of them have felt obliged to always work within informal conditions or agreements. The remainder have had to alternate between contracts, become freelancers or receive cash in hand.

The instability of these professionals has direct consequences on schemes linked to social protection. 60% of full-time scriptwriters today do not have access to health care and pensions schemes. And although this percentage drops to 55% among those with two jobs, their testimonies demonstrate the high degree of uncertainty and social risk they also face. For instance, 33% of those with two jobs openly admitted to not knowing how they were going to live when they retire. 11% of them responded that they are saving for their retirement and the remainder commented that they had no other option but to keep on working.

The survey also revealed the conditions of moonlighting and underemployment faced by other key players in the creation of audiovisual content. It is no coincidence that moonlighting is a common practice for 61.5% of those interviewed. Of these, 36% have two jobs in the creative sector and 10% are working in another job in the education sector, either as university teachers or secondary school teachers. Multiple employment is linked to another major issue: underemployment. Script writers,

despite being very qualified, often have to resort to carrying out menial and low-skilled activities for which they are overqualified.

The informal conditions of Latin American script writers are not exclusive to those who are freelance or paid cash in hand. All writers, despite some having signed formal contracts with producers or local channels, therefore working in formal employment, are having issues usually linked to working in an informal environment.

The survey also presented an opportunity to have an insight on the situation of the women working in this sector. The most worrying result is that 78% of those interviewed have felt discriminated against at some point in their career. 48% of women have one or more jobs. A total of 52% don’t have access to healthcare and pensions, and 33% have always worked in informal employment.

Several of the women interviewed elaborated on the types of discrimination they had faced. For example, they highlighted the existence of macho practices at news desks and on film sets, which translates as the constant delegitimization of their knowledge, as well as limiting their access to the same opportunities as their male colleagues. Another striking anecdote was that of Mexican interviewees who expressed their frustration over the fact that producers often expect female scriptwriters to represent the female voice only or to limit themselves to telling love stories in audiovisual production.

Reflections on the rights of the author

Latin America applies the rights of the author on the intellectual property rights which originated in France. Unlike the most understood form of copyrighting, used predominantly to protect the rights of producers, broadcasters, distribution companies and publishers, intellectual property rights pertains specifically to the rights of creators; and therefore, in the case of audiovisual creations, to scriptwriters.

As such, all scripts generated in Latin America must have a designated person known as the holder of moral rights, someone who has the power to transfer all or some of his or her economic rights to a third party. Despite this regulation, the survey revealed the ongoing problems related to the effective enforcement of intellectual property and remuneration rights.

For instance, 83% of the scriptwriters with two jobs stated that they had had, at least once during their professional life, problems with insufficient payment of their royalties. This critical situation is even more adverse for full time working scriptwriters. 94% have had a conflict at least once because they were not paid royalties or were paid less than what had been agreed.

When observing specific cases, several scriptwriters explained that, even though they had signed contracts with channels and production companies, they never received the agreed contractual remuneration because these companies decided to push for a unilateral termination of the contracts. Others talked about the violation of their intellectual property rights during the development of the scriptwriting process where several authors are involved and, at the end of the process, the ownership of the work is given to the most senior scriptwriters.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, one cannot ignore the fact that given the incipient level of development of the audiovisual market in most countries in the region, royalty payments received by scriptwriters are limited to the amounts received through contracts with production companies and channels. This is the case for two reasons. First of all, unlike musical productions, after the initial presentation of audiovisual works at the cinema or broadcasted on television, the likelihood of production rebroadcasting again is very low, therefore royalty payments for the right of communication to the public are insignificant (with the exception of soap operas). Secondly, in several countries in the region, collective management societies continue to be in the process of consolidation and scriptwriters are not linked to these structures, which makes it even more difficult for these authors to gain access to the royalties generated by their work outside their residential countries.

In fact, only 25% of the total interviewed admitted that they are part of the collective management societies.

III. Suggested areas for further research

• It would be highly recommendable to continue researching the impact of COVID-19 on increasing the levels of underemployment and moonlighting activities for scriptwriters. This could include examples of how, in light of the above, professional and trainee script writers have had to engage in activities completely unrelated to the creative sector to assess how this trend might affect the overall development of the region’s audiovisual industry in the short and medium term.

• With the rise digital transformation, relationships between local and international producers and script writers are becoming increasingly complex. Local studies produced on this issue in Mexico, Argentina or Colombia could provide an analysis on the challenges of Latin American script writers face regarding the emergence of large content distribution platforms (such as Netflix and Amazon) versus the proposals of the platforms and production companies to promote the formal economy in the audiovisual’s value chain.

• Equally important is exploring further the gender inequalities existing in the development of the audiovisual content creation, to highlight income disparities and the various forms of discrimination faced by women working in this creative sector. The results of this research would be key in establishing public policy recommendations that promote the visibility and empowerment of women in the audiovisual sector.

IV. Highlight particular links to policy

The survey also demonstrated the strong tie between the extent to which the audiovisual industry is developed through its existing policies versus the problematic working conditions of scriptwriters. After going through the various testimonies provided in the survey, it was possible to categorise the

countries in that geographical region into two different categories based on how developed their audiovisual sectors are.

Category one includes countries which already have a growing audiovisual sector such as Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile. Category two includes countries with an audiovisual industry which is at its initial stages such as Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Cuba, Peru and Uruguay.

Among the problems highlighted by interviewees in the first category, were the difficulties which reside in the concentration of the market where few players currently exist. Some of the problems underlined by the script writers were the monopoly, abuse of dominant positions and standardised contracts which are commonplace in the market.

In countries with a smaller market, the interviewees emphasised the non-existence or scarce regulation of activity on behalf of the state and a lack of recognition on what scriptwriters bring to the creative industry was the main issue.

For both groups of countries, working relationships tend to be disproportionate and with little equilibrium existing between the work produced, its value and the time it takes to produce it.

The problems raised by the interviewees should be considered as a key to addressing and/or leading to a push to strengthen existing public policies in the audiovisual sector.



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